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Question: What Are the Differences Between an MBA and an MSOL Degree Program?

Answer: Master of Business Administration (MBA) is the formal designation for master’s degree programs that provide general instruction in the fundamentals of business management, while MSOL refers to specialized Master of Science in Organizational Leadership degree programs that focus on the human aspects of running an organization, including personnel management, effective decision-making, communicating business goals, and executing strategic business plans.

Masters of Business Administration vs. Master of Science in Organizational Leadership (MBA vs. MSOL)

A Masters of Business Administration (MBA) degree offers general training in the functional areas of business. These areas include accounting, economics, finance, management, and marketing. Students in MBA programs study these business functions, learn the theories and principles that business practices are grounded in, and use this body of knowledge to cultivate a coherent understanding of real-world businesses operations. MBA programs are thought of as a means to provide graduates with a range of tools and proficiencies that are useful in navigating the complexities of the business world.

Organizational leadership is a business specialization dedicated to the scientific exploration and understanding of effective leadership practices. It is a multi-disciplinary area of research and study that incorporates theories of psychology, communication, and organizational behavior, as well as case studies in successful leadership practices. Master of Science in Organizational Leadership (MSOL) degree programs distill this body of knowledge into a system for confronting the human aspects of business operations and deploying various strategies to persuade, motivate, inspire, and otherwise guide individuals and groups within an organization toward achieving desired goals.

MBA Curriculum vs. MSOL Curriculum

The differences between an MBA program and an MSOL program are evident when comparing the core curricula associated with these programs. MBA programs provide students with a comprehensive overview of the functional aspects of business operations and management, including financial reporting and accounting practices, economic forces and market dynamics, investments and finance, and business law and ethics. In contrast, MSOL programs may or may not incorporate instruction in these functional areas (accounting, economics, finance, and marketing). Instead, the focus of the MSOL curriculum is on understanding the purpose of leadership, studying the role of the leader, and cultivating skills associated with effective leadership. These include communication, crisis management, and conflict resolution skills, as well as negotiation, motivation, and persuasion strategies grounded in behavioral science.

The table below offers a contrasting look at MBA vs. MSOL program curricula using courses drawn from actual MBA and MSOL programs:

Common MBA CoursesCommon MSOL Courses
Managerial EconomicsOrganizational Behavior & Theory
Financial AccountingLeading & Managing Change
Strategic MarketingOrganizational Learning
Corporate FinanceNegotiation & Conflict Resolution
Management CommunicationCommunication: Power & Politics
Legal Studies & Business EthicsEthical Leadership

However, there is also some overlap between MBA and MSOL curricula. Organizational communication and business ethics, for example, are two areas of study that are applicable in general business administration and organizational leadership contexts. Managerial economics is another subject that is foundational to business management, whether in the context of an MBA program or an MSOL program. It should be noted that many MSOL programs are designed for students who have some professional experience (two or more years) in a business field, and who have already had some instruction in basic business proficiencies like financial accounting and managerial economics.

MBA Specializations and Dual Degree Programs vs. MSOL Specializations

In addition to the general business instruction provided in an MBA program, many programs offer students the option of specializing in a particular area of business administration. One area of MBA specialization is organizational leadership. An MBA specialization generally involves enrolling in two or more courses in that specific area, so an MBA with an organizational leadership track might include several courses that would fit into a typical MSOL curriculum – Foundations of Organization Leadership and Organizational Theory & Behavior are examples of such courses. Many MBA programs also offer students the option of earning a dual degree, which means pairing an MBA with a complementary advanced degree in another professional field. In fact, there are programs that offer an MBA/MSOL dual degree option. In contrast, because the MSOL is a specialized degree, there are fewer additional options for specialization in an MSOL program.

The table below illustrates some of the common specializations in MBA and MSOL programs, as well as typical MBA dual degree programs.

MBA ProgramsDual MBA ProgramsMSOL Programs
Accounting & FinanceMBA/MS in AccountingHuman Resources Management
Healthcare ManagementMBA/MS in FinanceProject Leadership and Management
MarketingMBA/JDEnterprise Resource Planning
Operations ManagementMBA/LLMPublic Service/Non-Profit Management
Strategic ManagementMBA/MS in Urban Planning
Organizational LeadershipMBA/MS in Engineering
Information Systems/TechnologyMBA/Master’s in Public Health
EntrepreneurshipMBA/MS in Nursing
Media/EntertainmentMBA/MD
Consulting/Corporate StrategyMBA/MS in Social Work
Supply Chain ManagementMBA/MA in International Studies
Real EstateMBA/MS in Environmental Studies

As the relatively wide range of potential specializations offered through MBA programs indicates, MBA programs are often a good option for students who have not settled on a particular area to pursue within the large realm of business careers. MSOL programs are specifically designed for students who want to pursue a career in the field of organizational leadership and/or advance into leadership roles within the business specialization they have already chosen.


Business FAQ Pages:

FAQ: Are There Any Part-Time Online MBA Programs?
FAQ: Are There Master’s in Accounting Programs That Have 100% Online Instruction?
FAQ: Are There Master’s in Finance Programs That Have 100% Online Instruction?
FAQ: Are There Online Master’s in Accounting Programs That Do Not Require Applicants to Submit GMAT Scores or That Will Waive the GMAT Requirement?
FAQ: Are There Online Master’s in Finance Programs That Do Not Require GMAT Scores or That Offer a GMAT Waiver?
FAQ: Are There Online MBA Programs that Do Not Require GMAT Test Scores?
FAQ: Are There Part-Time Online Master’s in Accounting Degree Programs?
FAQ: Are There Part-Time Online Master’s in Finance Degree Programs?
FAQ: Does the SHRM Accredit Master’s in HRM Degree Programs?
FAQ: How Long Does it Take To Complete an MBA Program?
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FAQ: What Are the Differences Between Professional MBA Programs and Executive MBA Programs?
FAQ: What Are the Different Types of MBA Degree Programs?
FAQ: What Can You Do with a Sports Management Degree?
FAQ: What Is a Dual Degree MBA Program?
FAQ: What is a Dual Specialization MBA Program?
FAQ: What is a Flexible MBA Program?
FAQ: What Is a Human Resource Management Degree?
FAQ: What Is a One-Year MBA Program?
FAQ: What Is an MBA Degree?
FAQ: What Is an MSOL Degree Program?
FAQ: What Is the Difference Between a Dual Specialization and a Dual Degree MBA Program?
FAQ: What Is the Difference Between an MBA in Finance and a Master’s in Finance?
FAQ: What Is the Difference Between an MBA in Human Resource Management and a Master’s in Human Resource Management?
FAQ: What Is the Difference Between Finance and Accounting?
FAQ: What MBA Concentrations and Specializations Are Offered Online?
FAQ: Who Accredits MBA Programs?
FAQ: Who Accredits non-MBA Business Programs?
FAQ: Who Accredits Online Master’s in Accounting Degree Programs?